It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.
She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.
Tell Me More: With one novel, Ruta Sepetys became an insta-buy author on my list. Between Shades of Gray was an astonishing story that still lives in my mind, and when I discovered that she had a new novel coming out this year, I didn’t need to know the plot to know that I’d have to read it. Happily, all my expectations were justified and more, because Out of the Easy is just as powerful a story as Gray.
Josie is one of the strongest female characters I’ve read in ages. She’s nowhere near being perfect, but there is a resilience to her spirit that captivated me from the first page. She might not have the ideal life, but she works hard and she has ambition enough to change it into whatever she wants it to be. But she’s also young enough to want to believe in an illusion, and for a few short hours, Forrest Hearne allows her that illusion. His murder doesn’t just rock the community, but the foundations of her life, and makes this more than a cliched story of a girl trying to get out of a small town.
Out of the Easy is a novel that takes every part of Josie’s life, every person she interacts with, and every decision she makes, and allows all of them to reflect the kind of person she is. Josie is surrounded by some very strong and memorable characters, but they never overwhelm her or the story. Sepetys manages both with a deft and confident hand, giving Josie and her story room to grow and fall and make mistakes.
Of particular interest is the relationship between Josie and Willie, the brothel madam. Willie is more of a mother to Josie than Josie’s biological mother ever was, and even before Willie begins to hint at the reason for that, the similarities are striking. Both of them are women who have learned to take what they find in life and shape it into something they can work with. Willie doesn’t lie to Josie or tell her that life is fair, and that honesty shapes the person that Josie becomes through the course of the novel.
I don’t see the mystery behind Forrest Hearne’s death as the core of the story. Instead, it is the changes Josie undergoes as she discovers the myriad differences between her and her mother. Where Josie faces life head-on, her mother allows herself to be led by illusions. Where Josie is stubborn and focused, her mother is easily fooled and distracted by fleeting desires. A less talented writer would fumble with characters like these, and may even allow judgement to creep into her narration. Not so for Sepetys, who lets the reader come to their own conclusion about the kind of person that Louise Moraine is, and the kind of person Josie has the potential to be.
Lastly, I feared that the possible romantic set-ups between Josie and two local boys would prove to be a distraction from the story. Happily, I found myself enjoying the careful hints of Jesse’s affection for her, and I am glad that her life choices weren’t limited to picking between Jesse and Patrick. It was never a love triangle, and more importantly, it was never something that would define Josie.
The Final Say: Nothing about Josie Moraine’s life comes easy, but Ruta Sepetys’ writing makes her story more than just another historical novel. Out of the Easy will settle into your bones and live in your mind as much as New Orleans lives in Josie.
Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. Her award-winning debut novel, “Between Shades of Gray” was inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania and is published in 40 countries. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee.